Will Bruin;Boniek Garcia

Major League Soccer’s playoff pace, timing utterly nonsensical

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The pace and rhythm of Major League Soccer’s playoff stinks. It’s broken, largely ineffective and fairly nonsensical. There’s no other way to say it.

It’s really about a larger problem with MLS priorities: League stability now largely achieved, steady growth now a pleasant reality, Major League Soccer can now lean into the business of refining its product. And nowhere is refining (“reforming” actually, in this case) more important than in year-long scheduling. The concerns are myriad, including the problematic issue of playing through FIFA fixture dates, TV time slots that don’t make a lot of sense, the loss of opportunity in a lack of simultaneous final-day kickoffs and more.

Over the last few days, we’ve seen another troublesome, pot-holed road of MLS scheduling: a playoff docket that works against the league in so many ways, in limiting ticket sales and in stripping away any chance to build meaningful post-season momentum.

Let’s start here: Major League Soccer is committed to its playoff system. Not everyone agrees it should be this way; a day never passes in MLS supporter circles without impassioned debate over whether traditional world soccer models – single table, no playoffs, plus promotion-relegation – should decide the championship. But American sports are about playoffs, and I happen to believe that’s fine.

So MLS is committed to playoffs, and fair enough. League deciders favor the playoffs so much that three years ago they added two teams to the post-season field, getting more teams involved not only in the post-season, but in the truly exciting stretch run, the dramatic playoff races that (league officials hope) create memories, adding interest and fans along the way. So, fair enough to all that.

But it makes no sense to draw a big red circle around your post-season and point toward that show cow all year – and then fail to make it a priority in overall scheduling.  The league builds and builds and builds toward the playoffs – and then “Poof!”  So much of it is over in about 10 minutes.

(MORE: Dynamo president Chris Canetti talks about low turnout)

If we isolate scheduling, it really looks like the playoffs are just something MLS sticks on the back of the regular season. As in, “All right, let’s get this over with!”

First thing that happens: Teams often get two or three days to sell the first match. That’s why Seattle had just 32,204 in attendance for its elimination game against Colorado, a contest that kicked off just two-plus days after the final regular season kick. A few days after that, Seattle was back on the field again, this time playing before 38,507. Both are great numbers in domestic soccer – but well below average for the Seattle Sounders.

Along with the final regular season match, MLS policy forced Sounders FC to ask its fans to buy tickets three times within seven days. And that’s a tough ask. Bottom line, when Seattle is having trouble selling tickets to important matches, something has gone very wrong.

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Both Seattle playoff matches at home so far fell well south of this swell attendance number; this was the final regular season match at CenturyLink.

Houston had issues selling playoff  tickets, too, no real surprise considering the Dynamo didn’t know it was in the post-season until final day – and then had seven days to sell two matches. (Yes, other sports, NBA, NHL, etc., face tight sales windows at playoff time. But as we all know, and yet sometimes conveniently forget during these conversations, MLS is not the NBA or even the NHL.)

TV becomes problematic, too, with so little time provided to sort out the particulars. MLS had major trouble ginning up network interest in last week’s elimination matches. Neither of tonight’s matches (where the league’s largest market club, New York, could be eliminated) will appear on an English-language national outlet.

Aside from ticket sales and missed opportunities to create sponsor involvement and TV interest, MLS gives itself and its clubs zero chance to build some real marketing momentum along the post-season way.

The season ends. Three or four days later, two teams are gone. A week after that, four more are out.

Think about that: Within 11 days of the final regular season whistle, 6 of 10 teams are gone! The bulk of the playoffs – remember, that big red circle the league has pointed to over an entire year – are history in just 11 days.

That is what MLS wants its playoffs to be about?

The single-game, 4th-vs.-5th elimination match is fine – but put it on the weekend after the final regular season match. (And for heaven’s sakes, stop putting one of the first MLS playoff contests on Halloween! People are out and about, not home watching sports.)

(MORE: MLS loses opportunities with no final-day simultaneous kickoffs)

Then stretch these conference semifinal series over two weekends. Give them some room to breathe. We see fantastic momentum build during playoff series runs in baseball, basketball and hockey. Those are multi-game sets, of course, and MLS is fine with its two-game, home-and-away format – but give them a chance to create some energy in the market, at least.

None of this even addresses issues of fairness or technical quality. Play, travel, play, travel … that’s hardly a recipe for great soccer.

Mostly though, MLS just doesn’t give itself a chance to exploit the meaningful post-season narratives, the memory makers that create club history and build legacy. And that’s a real shame.

It’s not that difficult: Add a couple more regular season weeknight dates – and then avoid them at all cost during the post-season.

Generally, when creating the overall schedule, MLS needs to start with a playoff schedule that makes sense, and then back into the regular season from there.

VIDEO: Rod Stewart steals show in hilarious Scottish FA Cup draw

Rod Stewart
Sky Sports
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Sir Rod Stewart knows how to play to a crowd.

This proves it.

[ MORE: Wenger charged after push

And no, 72-year-old Stewart was not performing on stage at one of the world’s biggest venues on Sunday but he was instead conducting the draw for the fifth round of the Scottish FA Cup.

Seriously.

Live on Sky Sports in the UK, he was given the task of drawing out the home teams and Stewart did so in flamboyant and phenomenal fashion, especially when drawing out his beloved Glasgow Celtic.

Click play on the video below to be mesmerized by Stewart’s energy and excitement. This is brilliant.

There are some suggestions out there that he may have had a small alcoholic beverage before taking part in the draw…

Personally, I think there should be a new rule which sees Rod Stewart involved in every single cup draw from here on out.

Agree? I think you will.


Arsene Wenger charged with misconduct by FA

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Arsene Wenger has been charged with misconduct by the English Football Association.

[ MORE: New PL title odds released ]

Wenger, 66, reacted angrily to Arsenal conceding a penalty kick in second half stoppage time against Burnley on Sunday — the 10-man Gunners would go on to get a contentious spot kick off their own in the 98th minute to win 2-1 — and was sent to the stands by the officials.

He then appeared to push the fourth official and afterwards admitted he “regrets everything” and he should have “shut up and gone home” after the incident.

The FA released the following statement regarding Wenger’s charge.

Arsene Wenger has been charged for misconduct following Arsenal’s game against Burnley on Sunday [22 January 2017].

It is alleged that in or around the 92nd minute, he used abusive and/or insulting words towards the fourth official. It is further alleged that following his dismissal from the technical area, his behaviour in remaining in the tunnel area and making physical contact with the fourth official amounted to improper conduct.

He has until 6pm on 26 January 2017 to respond to the charge.

Many are calling for Wenger to be handed a very long ban for his actions.

He pushed fourth official Anthony Taylor and although it wasn’t hard enough for Taylor to fall over, it was in an aggressive manner and Wenger and the fourth official were separated by security guards in the tunnel area.

It was not the Frenchman’s finest moment and he is sure to pay a heavy price both in a fine and a potential touchline ban.

If Jose Mourinho received a one-game touchline ban for kicking a battle earlier this season, then surely Wenger has to get at least two or three games for physical contact with a match official.

The stress of a title race does funny things to even the coolest of characters.

DC United sign Ian Harkes to Homegrown deal

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Wake Forest
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D.C. United have completed the deal to bring Ian Harkes back to RFK Stadium.

[ MORE: Title odds in PL ]

Harkes, 21, signed for the Major League Soccer franchise Monday as a Homegrown player, fresh from winning the MAC Hermann Trophy earlier this month as the best collegiate player in the U.S. following his heroics with Wake Forest University over the past four years.

Son of former D.C. United and U.S. national team captain John Harkes, it is believed the two-way midfielder had plenty of options in Europe due to his dual nationality after he was born in England duringJohn’s playing days with Sheffield Wednesday, Derby County, West Ham United and Nottingham Forest.

However, the younger Harkes has instead decided to sign for United and head coach Ben Olsen was delighted to add arguably the most talented up and coming midfielder in U.S soccer.

“I’ve known Ian nearly his entire life and have watched him develop into one of the nation’s best young talents.” Olsen said. “He has all the tools to succeed at the next level and I look forward to being a part of his pro career.”

Harkes starred for DCU’s Academy as captain of both the U-16 and U-18 level before heading to Wake Forest for his storied four-year college career and now he will return home to try and lead a D.C. side back to the latter stages of the postseason.

Olsen has endured an up and down time with United over the past seven years, but has reached the MLS Cup playoffs in four of the last five campaigns.

Adding Harkes will no doubt increase DCU’s chances of making a deep run at the postseason in 2017. He also increase their number of Homegrown players to four in their current squad.

Latest bookmakers odds to win Premier League title

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Burnley at the Emirates Stadium on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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The bookies aren’t quite calling it yet, but it’s getting to that stage…

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

After a tumultuous weekend in the Premier League the odds on Chelsea winning the title were slashed to 2/5 odds-on by some bookmakers. Chelsea’s 15th win in their last 16 games, coupled with a draw for Manchester United, a draw between Manchester City and Tottenham, a defeat to Liverpool and a late win for Arsenal, saw things continue to stack in Antonio Conte‘s favor.

With all that in mind, below is a list of the title odds for the current top six teams in the Premier League via SkyBet in the UK.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

I don’t know about you guys but Arsenal at 9/1 seem like a very decent price considering the games they have coming up and their star players pretty much all in-form and, for now, fully fit. Maybe that’s where the value is in this market.

Would be intrigued to see who you guys would bet on, aside from Chelsea…


Chelsea – 2/5
Tottenham – 7/1
Arsenal – 9/1
Liverpool – 12/1
Manchester City – 22/1
Manchester United – 40/1